The First War of Independence 1857 to 1917 Chapter Summary ICSE Class 10 History

Study Material

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ICSE Class 10 History The First War of Independence 1857 to 1917 Summary

We have provided below a summary of Chapter The First War of Independence 1857 to 1917. This is an important chapter in Standard 10th ICSE History. The summary provided below has been prepared by expert History faculty for ICSE based on the latest ICSE books. You should refer to all Chapter Summaries ICSE Class 10 History which will help you to understand all chapters and to get more marks in exams.

The First War of Independence 1857 to 1917 ICSE Class 10 History

Scope of syllabus
• Causes of First war of Independence
• Consequence of First War of Independence.


1) Policy of Expansion –
The British policy of control and gradual extinction of the native Indian States was one of the major grievances of the Indian rulers. The British tried to expand their political power in four ways:
(i) By outright wars – To expand their territorial power in India and to safeguard their economic and political interests, the British waged many wards.
a) The Battle of Buxar [1764] established the British as the masters of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha.
b) Due to their success in Anglo-Mysore Wars [1767-1799] the East India Company annexed most of the territories of Mysore State.
c) After the Third Anglo-Maratha War [1817-1818] the Peshwa’s entire dominions and all Maratha territory North and South of the Narmada river were acquired by the British.
d) After the Sikhs were defeated in Second Anglo-Sikh War, Punjab was annexed in 1849

(ii) Subsidiary Alliance – It was introduced by Lord Wellesley. Under this system, the Indian ruler who agreed to the subsidiary Alliance –
a) Accepted British as the supreme power
b) Surrendered their foreign relations to the East India Company and agreed that they would not enter into any alliance with any other power and would not wage wars.
c) Accepted a British Resident at their headquarters and agreed not to employ any European in their service without consulting the company.
d) Agreed to maintain British troops at their own cost and they virtually lost their independence.

(iii) By using Doctrine of Lapse – Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General of India, annexed many Indian States to the company using the Doctrine of Lapse. According to this Lapse, heirs adopted without the consent of the company, could inherit only the private property of the deceased ruler, and not his territory, which would come under the company’s rule.
The principle of Lapse was also applied to take away the titles and pensions of the rulers of some states, States that became victims to the Doctrine were Jhansi, Satara, Sambalpur, Jaitpur, Udaipur and Nagpur.

(iv) On the pretext of Alleged Misrule – In 1856, Lord Dalhousie annexed Awadh to the company’s dominance on the pretext of alleged misrule. He justified the annexation of Awadh on the pretext of “the good governance”. But the people of Awadh had to face many hardships. They had to pay higher land revenue and additional taxes on food, houses etc. The dissolution of the Nawab of Awadh’s army and administration threw thousands of nobles, officials and soldiers out of jobs. Awadh played a major role in the uprising of 1857.

2) Disrespect shown to Bahadur Shah –
(i) Bahadur Shah Zafar, the Mughal ruler, was under the protection of the company and received a pension from the British.
(ii) In 1849, Lord Dalhousie announced that successors of Bahadur Shah Zafar would not be permitted to use the Red Fort as their palace. They were required to shift to a place near Qutab Minar.
(iii) In 1856, Lord Canning announced that after the death of Bahadur Shah, his successors would not be allowed to use the imperial titles with their names and would be known as mere princes.

3) Treatment given to Nana Saheb [adopted son of Baji Rao II, the last Peshawar] and Rani Laxmibai –
(i) The British refused to grant Nana Saheb the pension they were paying to Baji Rao II
(ii) Nana Saheb was forced to live at Kanpur, far away from his family seat at Poona.
(iii) The wealth he inherited from former Peshawar, was utilized in sending emissaries to various parts of the country for generating awareness among the Indians about the British Policies.
(iv) Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi, who became the victim of the Doctrine of Lapse, became a bitter enemy of the British as her adopter son was not accepted as the heir to the throne.

4) Absentee Sovereignty of the British –
It means that India was ruled by the British Government. from England, at a distance of thousands of miles.
(i) Absentee sovereignty of the British rule was resented by the Indians.
(ii) The earlier rulers who had settled in India, like the Mughals, collected revenue from the Indians and it were spent in India only.
(iii) In case of Britain, the Indians felt that they were being ruled from England and India’s wealth was being drained to England and not utilized for their welfare.

1) Interference with social customs –
Some of the social reforms introduced by the British in India aimed at improving the conditions of the people. But, the feelings of the people were not taken into consideration, while introducing such reforms. Hence, reforms like abolition at Sati, introduction of the Widow Remarriage Act etc. were not welcomed by the masses.

2) Apprehensions about Modern Innovations –
Introduction of modern innovations like railways and telegraphs was misunderstood by people. Ex-orthodox Indians noted that in the railway compartments the higher castes and the lower castes were made to sit side by side. They believed that the British had introduced such practices to defy their caste and religion.

3) Policy of Racial Discrimination –
British officers were rude and arrogant towards the Indians. They believed that they were superior to Indians. They dubbed the Muslims as cruel and unfaithful. Such acts of unjust discrimination alienated the British from the Indian masses.

4) Corruption in administration –
The police and petty officials were corrupt. The rich got away with crime but the common man was looted, oppressed and tortured.

5) Activities of Missionaries –
In 18th Century, the British had a friendly attitude towards Indian Religions. The company even acted as a trustee of some Hindu temples. But, in the 19th Century, this attitude changed. The British started interfering with the local religious and social customs. They denounced idol worship and dubbed local beliefs as ignorance.
After 1813, numbers and activities of the Christian missionaries increased. Indians thought that the Government. was supporting missionaries who would convert them to Christianity.

6) Fears regarding Western education –
The Western system of education was introduced in many schools. Ex- the Bengal Government. established an English class in Calcutta, Madrasa, which was a Muslim institution. English classes were introduced in Benaras Sanskrit college. This migration from oriental learning to Western education was not received well by the people, especially the Pandits and the Maulvis. This was seen as an attempt to discourage traditional Islamic and Hindu Studies.

7) Law of Property –
The Religious Disabilities Act of 1850 changed the Hindu Law of Property. It allowed conversion from Hindu to other religions to inherit the property of their father. The Hindus regarded this as an incentive to give up one’s religious faith.

1) Exploitation of Economic Resources –
(i) Agricultural India was made an economic colony to serve the interests of industrial England.
(ii) India was forced to export, raw materials like raw cotton and silk at cheaper rates that the British industries needed urgently.
(iii) India was also forced to accept readymade British goods either duty-free or at nominal duty rates, while Indian products were subjected to high import duties in England.
(iv) Indian handmade goods were unable to compete with the cheaper, machine-made British products, which ruined the Indian industry, deprived the artisans of their income and reduced the avenues of employment of labour.

2) Drain of wealth –
Till the Battle of Plassey [1757], European traders brought gold into Indian, to buy Indian cotton and silk. But, after the conquest of Bengal, the British stopped getting gold into India. They purchased raw material, for their industries from the surplus revenues of Bengal and profits from duty-free inland trade. Thus, Britain started plundering Indian’s raw materials, resources and wealth.

The transfer of wealth from India to England, for which India did not receive proportionate economic return, is called the Drain of Wealth.

The drain included salaries, incomes and savings of Englishmen, British expenditure in India on the purchase of military goods, office establishment etc.

3) Decay of Cottage Industries and Handicrafts –
(i) Heavy duties on Indian silk and cotton textiles in Britain destroyed Indian Industries. While British goods were imported into India at a nominal duty.
(ii) Export of cotton and silk goods from India ceased.
(iii) The art of spinning and weaving, which was a source of employment to thousands of artisans, became extinct.
(iv) The misery of the artisans further increased by the disappearance of their traditional patrons and buyers- the princes, zamindars, etc.

4) Economic Decline of Peasantry –
(i) Peasants were discontent with the official land revenue policy and the consequent loss of their land.
(ii) Increase in land revenue forced many peasants into indebtedness or into selling their lands.
(iii) Traditional zamindars were replaced by merchants and moneylenders, who had no concern for the peasants.
(iv) They pushed rents to exorbitant levels and evicted their tenants in case of non-payment.
(v) Economic decline of peasants affected cultivation and led to many famines.

5) Inhuman treatment of indigo cultivators –
Indigo trade was highly profitable to the British but the conditions under which the peasants worked were inhuman. They were forced to cultivate only indigo in the fields chosen by the British Planters. If they planted anything else, their crops were destroyed; their cattle were carried off as punishment.

6) Decline of Landed Aristocracy –
The landed aristocracy which included the taluqdars and the hereditary landlords were deprived of their estates. According to the provisions of the Inam Commission [1852] 20,000 estates were confiscated when the landlords failed to produce title-deeds by which they held the land. These confiscated lands were sold by public auction to the highest bidders. Such estates were purchased by merchants and moneylenders who did not understand the needs of the tenants and exploited them. This drove the landed aristocracy to poverty without benefitting the peasantry which suffered under the weight of exorbitant land revenue.

1) Ill-treatment of Indian Soldiers –
East India Company established the British Empire in India with the help of Indian soldiers. Though, Indian soldiers were as efficient as their British Counterparts, they were poorly paid, ill-bed and badly housed.
The British military authorities forbade the sepoys from wearing caste or sectarian marks, beards or turbans.

2) General service Enlistment Act –
As per the General Service Enlistment Act 1856, the Indian soldiers could be sent overseas on duty. The act did not take into account the sentiments of Indian soldiers since it was a taboo for a Brahmin to cross the seas.

3) Bleak Prospects of Promotion –
1) All higher positions in employment were reserved for the British, irrespective of their performance.
2) Even the Indian soldiers formerly occupying high positions could not rise above the ranks of a subedar.

4) Deprivation of Allowances –
The extension of British dominion in India adversely affected the service conditions of the sepoys. They were required to serve in areas away from their homes without extra payment and additional Bhatta [Foreign Service allowance.]
The Post Office Act of 1854 withdrew the privilege of free postage enjoyed by sepoys.

5) Faulty Distribution of Troops –
Places of strategic importance like Delhi, Allahabad had no British armies and were wholly held by Indian soldiers. Besides, England was engaged in several wars outside India, e.g. the Persian War, Crimean War and the Chinese War. Indian soldiers thought that the British were in difficulty and the safety of her Indian empire depended on them. Hence, they were determined to strike at them at a suitable time.

In 1856, British authorities decided to replace the old-fashioned Musket [Brown Bess] by the new ‘Enfield rifle’. The cartridges used in the rifle were said to be greased with the fat of cows and pigs. Greased paper of the cartridges had to be bitten off with the teeth before loading them in the rifle. The Sepoys were convinced that the introduction of greased cartridges was a deliberate move to defile Hindu and Muslim religions as the cow is sacred to Hindus and the sacrificing pig is a taboo to Muslims. Thus, Hindu and Muslim soldiers refused to use these cartridges and staged an uproar when they were forced to use them.


1) End of the Company’s Rule –
The most important result of the uprising of 1857 was the end of the rule of the East India Company and assumption of the Government of India directly by the crown. This was done by the Government of India Act of 1858 which had the following provisions –
a) It transferred the power to govern India from the East India Company to the British Crown.
b) While the authority over India was earlier in the hands of the Directors of the company and the Board of control, the power was now exercised by the Secretary of State for India, aided by a council. The Secretary of State was responsible to the Parliament. Thus, the ultimate power over India remained with the British Parliament.
c) Secretary of State’s salary and allowances were to be paid out of the revenues of India.
d) Actual governance was to be carried on by the Governor-General who was also given the title of Viceroy or Crown’s personal representative. Lord Canning was appointed as the first Viceroy under this Act.

2) Queen Victoria’s Proclamation –
Queen’s proclamation incorporating the transfer of governance from East India Company to British Crown was made public at Allahabad, on November 1, 1858, by Lord Canning, the first Viceroy of India. The proclamation promised that the Government of India would –
(i) follow a policy of non-intervention in social and religious matters of Indians.
(ii) treat all subjects – Indians and Britishers as equals. Education and ability would be the basis of all appointments.
(iii) grant a general pardon to all those who had taken part in the war except those who were found guilty of murder of British subjects.
(iv) promote public utility works in India to ensure the materialistic as well as the moral progress of people.

3) End of Mughals and Peshwas –
(i) With the death of Bahadur Shah II, who was deported to Yangon, the Mughal dynasty ended.
(ii) Nana Saheb, the last Peshwa, had taken an active part in the uprising and had fled to Nepal, after the failure of the uprising. So, office of the Peshwa ended. Thus, the legacy of two of the most formidable foes of the British – the Marathas and the Mughals had ended.

4) Relation with Princely States –
a) The policy of Annexation and the Doctrine of Lapse were abandoned.
b) Some Indian princes had remained loyal to the British and had helped them in suppressing the uprising. Their loyalty was rewarded with the announcement that their right to adopt heirs would be respected and the integrity of their territories guaranteed against future annexation.
c) In 1876, Queen Victoria assumed the title of the “Empress of India”
d) Indian princes willingly became agents of British Crown because they were promised that they would continue as rulers of their state.

5) Policy of Divide and Rule –
(i) After 1858, British continued their policy of ‘divide and rule’ by turning the Princess against the people, province against province, caste against caste, Hindus against Muslims etc.
(ii) They alienated people from their rulers by giving them special protection and concessions.
(iii) The British also encouraged hatred and ill-feeling among Hindus and Muslims so that they could never challenge the British Empire in India.

6) Racial Antagonism –
(i) British believed in their racial superiority and they thought that a social distance was to be maintained to preserve their authority over the Indians.
(ii) Railway compartments, Parks, Hotels, etc. were reserved for ‘Europeans Only’.

7) Foreign Policy
(i) India’s foreign policy was dictated by the interests of the British Government. It fulfilled two aims of the British –
a) Protection of its Indian Empire.
b) Expansion of British economic and commercial interests in Asia and Africa.
The cost of implementation of these policies was borne by the Indians.

8) Changes in the Army –
The Indian Army was re-organized after 1858, to prevent the re-occurrence of another uprising in the following manner –
(i) The strength of European troops in India was increased.
The ratio of European to Indian troops was 1:2 [Bengal army] and 2:5 [Madras and Bombay armies]
(ii) European troops were kept in key geographical and military positions.
(iii) Earlier Policy of excluding Indians from the officer corps was strictly maintained.
(iv) To desist Indian soldiers from rising again against the British ruler, the sophisticated weapons and ammunition were never placed under the charge of Indians. All Indian artillery units, except few mountain units were disbanded.
(v) The organization of the Indian section of the army was based on the policy of ‘Balance and Counterpoise’ or ‘Divide and Rule’ so as to prevent another Anti-British uprising.
(vi) Newspapers, journals, nationalist publications were prevented from reaching the soldiers to keep the Indian army separated from the rest of the population.

9) Economic Exploitation –
The uprising of 1857 ended the era of territorial expansion and ushered in the era of economic exploitation in the following manner –
(i) India was turned into colonial economy, exporting raw material, importing finished goods.
(ii) Salary and allowances of secretary of state and members of the India council, the civil servants and military officers were a large drain on the country’s resources.
(iii) Peasants were impoverished under the British rule.
(iv) Rural artisan industries like handicrafts, spinning and weaving collapsed.
(v) Indians paid heavy interests and dividends on the British Capital invested in India.

10) Rise of Nationalism –
(i) The uprising of 1857 was the first struggle of the Indians for freedom from British imperialism.
(ii) The sacrifices made by revolutionaries like Rani Laxmi Bai, Nana Saheb and Mangal Pandey served as a source of inspiration for the future freedom fighters.

11) Religious changes –
The British rulers declared their policy of non-interference in the religious, affairs, customs and traditions of the Indians.


Chapter 1 The First War of Independence 1857-1917
First War of Independence Class 10 ICSE notes